What's the single most important piece of Hiking gear?
The single most important piece of your Hiking gear is, without a doubt, your Footwear. Although most people realize this to some degree when they shop for hiking shoes/boots - but they often fail to take into account the entire set of footwear. Initially you need to buy the right shoes/boots - taking into account the type of tread you need (mountain, hard surface, forest, etc), the height needed for ankle support, the arch needed for foot support and if waterproofing is needed or not. But after purchasing the hiking shoe/boot you also need to consider your socks. In my experience it is best to wear two pairs of socks; one made of wool for comfort and one made of a material (e.g. polyester) that wicks the moisture away from your foot while hiking.
Having the right set of footwear will allow you to focus on the fun parts of your Hiking adventure. Having the wrong footwear combination will cause problems and ruin the entire hike.
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